Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Habermas And Post-Secular Societies

"On the one hand, religion's return -- Habermas, perhaps with the American situation foremost in mind, goes so far as to speak of the emergence of "post-secular societies" -- presents us with undeniable dangers and risks. While theodicy has traditionally provided men and women with consolation for the harsh injustices of fate, it has also frequently taught them to remain passively content with their lot. It devalues worldly success and entices believers with the promise of eternal bliss in the hereafter. Here the risk is that religion may encourage an attitude of social passivity, thereby contravening democracy's need for an active and engaged citizenry. To wit, the biblical myth of the fall perceives secular history as a story of decline or perdition from which little intrinsic good may emerge.

On the other hand, laissez-faire's success as a universally revered economic model means that, today, global capitalism's triumphal march encounters few genuine oppositional tendencies. In that regard, religion, as a repository of transcendence, has an important role to play. It prevents the denizens of the modern secular societies from being overwhelmed by the all-encompassing demands of vocational life and worldly success. It offers a much-needed dimension of otherness: The religious values of love, community, and godliness help to offset the global dominance of competitiveness, acquisitiveness, and manipulation that predominate in the vocational sphere. Religious convictions encourage people to treat each other as ends in themselves rather than as mere means.

One of Habermas's mentors, the Frankfurt School philosopher Max Horkheimer, once observed that "to salvage an unconditional meaning" -- one that stood out as an unqualified Good -- "without God is a futile undertaking." As a stalwart of the Enlightenment, Habermas himself would be unlikely to go that far. But he might consider Horkheimer's adage a timely reminder of the risks and temptations of all-embracing secularism. Habermas stressed in a recent public lecture "the force of religious traditions to articulate moral intuitions with regard to communal forms of a dignified human life." As forceful and persuasive as our secular philosophical precepts might be -- the idea of human rights, for example -- from time to time they benefit from renewed contact with the nimbus of their sacral origins." - The Chronicle of Higher Education.

1 comment:

Gary E. Davis said...

For fellow Habermasians:

"Habermas: as text, influence, adversary, exemplar"

Hope to read you there.